Archive for the ‘ Matchups ’ Category

Series 20 Preview: Cubs at Angels


Mike Trout has held the Angels’ offense together this season. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Big contracts have left the Angels with outsized disappointment so far in 2013, one year after the Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson signings failed to ignite the team past a third place finish in the AL West. This winter, the Angels came out of nowhere to snatch up free agent outfielder Josh Hamilton, but the early returns have been equally unsettling. With Hamilton hitting for a .216 AVG/.280 OBP/.380 SLG slash line, and Pujols not much better at .243/.315/.408, the Angels sit in third place once again at just 25-33. The Cubs head to the City of Angels for quick a two-game set starting tonight.

HITTING: 4.3 RS/G 10th in AL
To focus too much on Pujols’ and Hamilton’s struggles would overlook one of the game’s most outstanding players: 21-year-old phenom Mike Trout. The electric outfielder is backing up his breakout campaign with a .299/.371/.547 slash line, with 10 home runs and 12 steals in 15 tries. Combined with very good outfield defense, Trout’s versatile skill set is matched by few—if any—in baseball. He’s also been manning center field while Peter Bourjos, a consistently outstanding outfielder, continues to rehab from a strained hamstring that has kept him out for more than a month. With Hamilton swinging at, and missing, everything and Pujols hobbled by a lingering knee issue, the Angels have had to rely too much on Trout, slugging first baseman Mark Trumbo and second baseman Howie Kendrick for offense. The net result has been roughly league average but with little indication of how the performances will even out in the long run.

PITCHING: 4.6 RA/G 10th in NL
Though the Angels have some depth issues in the back end of the rotation and in the late innings, the Cubs will face some tough matchups the next few nights. Right-hander Jered Weaver takes the hill Tuesday in his second start back from a broken left elbow. Weaver has established himself as one of the game’s true aces despite seeming to have rather ordinary stuff. His fastball velocity has declined steadily to the high-80s, and his strikeout rate has dropped along with it. But Weaver makes such outstanding use of deception, location and sequencing, that he’s consistently ranked as one of the AL’s most unhittable pitchers. The Cubs’ right-handed hitters will have to be particularly wary of the change-up (a rarity from same-handed pitchers), while both sides will see fastballs sneaking up on them with two strikes. Wednesday night’s starter is left-hander Jason Vargas, an extreme fly-ball pitcher who has so far made the transition nicely from spacious Safeco Field to the more neutral Angels Stadium. Vargas is primarily a fastball-curve pitcher, who will sink and cut his fastball to get hitters out in front. Hard-throwing Ernesto Frieri holds down the ninth—at least until veteran addition Ryan Madson returns from injury. Frieri’s a relative wild card due to extremely high walk and strikeout rates.

Series 19: Cubs vs. Diamondbacks


Rookie ace Patrick Corbin will take the mound Sunday for the D-backs. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Arizona’s offseason was probably more notable for what the team lost than for what it gained. The club said goodbye to 2005 No. 1 overall pick and former face of the franchise Justin Upton, a player they desperately hoped would emerge into a bona fide superstar. In return, they acquired the spectacularly versatile Martin Prado, who serves primarily as the club’s third baseman. They also dealt the talented-but-insubordinate Trevor Bauer, the organization’s first-round pick in 2011, for Didi Gregorius, a budding superstar at shortstop and one of the game’s top prospects. Though they share a division with the defending World Series champion Giants and the free-spending Dodgers, the surprise Diamondbacks and manager Kirk Gibson sit in first place as the baseball season rolls into June.

HITTING: 4.1 RS/G 6th in NL
The D-backs’ early offensive output might surprise some people, but it shouldn’t. First-base phenom Paul Goldschmidt has gotten off to an All-Star caliber start with a .337/.416/.605 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line and 12 home runs in his second full major league campaign. The team also added solid two-way player Prado, the key return in the Upton deal. Though Prado is only hitting .262 this season, he gives the club a pure hitter who shows patience at the plate and does whatever it takes to drive in runners (he was tied for the NL lead with nine sacrifice flies in 2012). Throw in upstart prospect Gregorius and leadoff hitter Gerardo Parra, and there aren’t many easy outs in the Arizona lineup. However, the Cubs will benefit with Silver Slugging second baseman Aaron Hill still out with a broken hand.

PITCHING: 3.7 RA/G 5th in NL
As good as the D-backs’ offense has been, the pitching staff has arguably been better. Southpaw Patrick Corbin, who takes the mound Sunday, has 10 quality starts, an NL-best eight wins and a 1.71 ERA (second in the NL) in 68.1 innings pitched. Friday’s starter Wade Miley was an All-Star in 2012, and though he has slightly regressed and is coming off the shortest outing of his career (7 R, 3.2 IP), the lefty still has a respectable 4.53 ERA in 10 starts. Fortunately for the Cubs, they won’t see right-hander Trevor Cahill. In 72 innings this season, the 25-year-old has a 2.88 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP, making the Corbin-Cahill combo a tough top-of-the-rotation punch. And it gets even tougher for opponents when games get to the bullpen. With closer J.J. Putz on the DL nursing an elbow strain, former ninth-inning anchor Heath Bell has racked up nine saves. Setup men Matt Reynolds and Brad Ziegler have also been tough late-inning relievers. The southpaw Reynolds owns a 1.16 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP and an 8.1 K/9 ratio over 23.1 innings. Ziegler has fared only slightly worse, with a 2.59 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP in 24.1 innings. Throw in David Hernandez, and games might be over quickly for D-backs foes.

Series 18 Preview: Cubs vs. White Sox


The Cubs jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the White Sox Tuesday, before the game was postponed due to rain. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty)

A home-and-home series—in baseball? Welcome to the crazy scheduling world of year-round Interleague Play. Though the South Siders have surprised analysts with their ability to outperform forecasts, they didn’t make any major additions to a roster that lost a late-season lead to the Tigers in the AL Central last year. While the Indians and Royals made big moves to catch Detroit, newly minted Sox GM Rick Hahn had to settle for signing super-utilityman Jeff Keppinger and set-up reliever Matt Lindstrom. Losing longtime catcher A.J. Pierzynski to free agency amplifies concerns about the aging lineup’s ability to score runs, and power lefty John Danks missed the opening weeks of the season as he continued to recover from left shoulder surgery. The Sox may again upset expectations and finish above .500—they’re currently one game below—but they haven’t won 90 games since 2006. The last time the Cubs won 90 was in 2008.

HITTING: 3.6 RS/G, 26th in MLB
Losing Pierzynski was a surprise, but so were his 27 home runs last year. The Sox couldn’t have expected that to happen again. Instead, this lineup will rely on its power trio of Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. It remains to be seen if Dayan Viciedo will make it a core four. If the team hopes to contend, Dunn will need to continue his rebound from 2011, arguably the worst year ever for a designated hitter (.569 OPS). So far, he’s off to a typically Dunn-like start. His power numbers are strong (12 home runs, 27 RBI), but he’s hitting just .156 with 66 strikeouts. The Sox also need leadoff man Alejandro De Aza to repeat his breakthrough performance from 2012. The good news is Rios got off to a hot start, leading the team in almost every statistical category. Still, the Sox will be better off if some of his teammates start challenging his numbers sometime soon.

PITCHING: 4.0 RA/G, 9th in MLB
Much of how well the 2013 season works out on the South Side rests on the Sox’s frontline pair of power lefties. Chris Sale is off to a good start (especially with Welington Castillo’s two-run blast from Tuesday wiped off the stat sheet) and hopes to follow up on his near Cy Young-worthy 2012 campaign, while today’s starter Danks is trying to bounce back from shoulder surgery. Thursday’s starter Jake Peavy has lived up to the veteran ace label in his first starts of 2013, posting a 6-2 record with a 2.97 ERA, but Gavin Floyd has already been lost for the year with an elbow injury. The good news for the Sox is the bullpen looks like a source of strength. Closer Addison Reed seems to have overcome last year’s wildness, and Jesse Crain is off to a fast start.

Series 16 Preview: Cubs at Reds


The Cubs will see Reds ace Johnny Cueto on Sunday. (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

The Cubs go from pitcher’s environment to hitter’s paradise as they head to Cincinnati for a three-game set. GM Walt Jocketty finally addressed an area this offseason that has plagued the Reds for years: the leadoff spot. And, boy, did he ever. Center fielder Shin-Soo Choo has put up a monstrous .300/.449/.535 (AVG/OBP/SLG) slash line with nine home runs in 45 games. That’s a far cry from the sub-.300 on-base percentage days of Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras and Drew Stubbs—even if Choo is better suited to a corner outfield spot. He is exactly the type of player the Reds need as they look to capture their third division title in four years.

HITTING 4.8 RS/G, 2nd in NL

It’s true that only Choo and other-worldly first baseman Joey Votto get on base with any consistency, but it’s been at such a great rate (roughly 47 percent of plate appearances combined) it’s allowed the team’s power to have maximum effect. Votto, of course, supplies plenty of pop, but so do second baseman Brandon Phillips, third baseman Todd Frazier and right fielder Jay Bruce—though impressively, it’s Choo who leads the team in home runs. On the defensive end, young shortstop Zack Cozart pairs up with Phillips to form one of the game’s best double-play tandems. And Votto has worked hard to become a good fielder at first. In the end, this is a lineup that does it all besides steal bases. It will be vital for Cubs pitchers to limit baserunners in order to mitigate any damage from home runs in Great American Ball Park.

PITCHING 3.6 RA/G, 5th in NL

The lineup gets the plaudits, but the pitching at least deserves a, “You’re not looking so bad yourself.” Every starting pitcher has an ERA below 3.50, from veteran Bronson Arroyo—who throws tonight—to the other four arms (all ages 27 and below). Some of the across-the-board improvements in the last few years could be credited to the defense, but there’s more to it than that. The Cubs will also see ace Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey this weekend. Owner of a corkscrew windup and one of the game’s most deceptive change-ups, Cueto has continually refined his command to become a truly outstanding starting pitcher. The improved control has paid off in reduced walks and home runs, though he didn’t look his finest in last week’s return from oblique and back issues. Interestingly, he’s even spoken about reducing the twist in his motion if it would prevent future injuries. Once seen as a disappointment after being heralded as a top prospect, Bailey is another member of the pitching staff who has seen a downward trend in his walks—and he not only earned a no-hitter last year but also posted a career-best ERA. Flame-throwing lefty Aroldis Chapman is the closer, but rookie J.J. Hoover has also picked up a save or two.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 15 Preview: Cubs at Pirates


Russell Martin has played a big role in the Pirates’ early-season success. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cubs head to Pittsburgh, where the Pirates have established themselves as one of the NL Central’s top three teams. Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Bucs sit at 26-18—just two games back of the division-leading Cardinals. PNC Park generally plays as a pitcher-friendly stadium. With the Pirates’ deep pitching staff, runs could be at a premium in the next few days.

4.0 RS/G 11th in NL
At the plate, the Pirates have been somewhat of a stars-and-scrubs affair thus far. Center fielder Andrew McCutchen and left fielder Starling Marte form an outstanding one-two punch that will be in Pittsburgh for years to come. Both can hit, hit for power, steal bases and play the field. Marte does have nine walks to 45 strikeouts in 197 plate appearances, however, so he’ll be challenged to harness his free-swinging ways as pitchers adjust to him. Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez are a very good left-right tandem at first base—expect Jones to start against the Cubs’ three right-handers scheduled to pitch, while Sanchez will offer protection against lefty James Russell. Catcher Russell Martin is looking like a steal at two years and $17 million. The 30-year-old has a great reputation for calling a game, and he’s the team’s most productive hitter through 44 games. But the rest of the infield has struggled offensively. Second baseman Neil Walker, shortstop Clint Barmes and third baseman Pedro Alvarez are each hitting in the low .200s. Barmes offers great defense, but Walker and Alvarez don’t.

3.6 RA/G, 4th in NL

The Cubs will miss resurgent 36-year-old A.J. Burnett, as well as breakout left-hander Jeff Locke. But there has been little drop off between them and veteran lefty Wandy Rodriguez, who toes the rubber Tuesday. Cubs fans have seen him for years in a Houston uniform. He brings a big, sweeping curve that will get lefties flailing and tie up righties. His control is much improved from his earlier days, though the increased use of his two-seam fastball has cost him some strikeouts. Francisco Liriano and Jeanmar Gomez follow, having stepped into the rotation due to injuries and attrition. Liriano is back to sitting in the 93-mph range and has been effective through two starts, despite his usual free passes. Lefties will have to watch for his four-seam fastball and slider combo, while righties will also see a two-seamer and change-up. Gomez was a minor offseason acquisition from the Indians, and he’s made great use of his heavy sinker in starts and relief so far. After getting a great deal of attention from GM Neal Huntington, the back end of the bullpen has been a revelation for the Pirates. Jason Grilli was bumped from setup duty to the ninth inning, and he boasts a 0.92 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 19.2 innings. Justin Wilson, who has a big fastball from the left side and mixes in a nasty cutter that plays against both hands, pairs with new addition Mark Melancon as the squad’s late-inning setup men.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 14 Preview: Cubs vs. Mets


Mets ace Matt Harvey will throw against the Cubs Friday afternoon. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The 2013 season is shaping up to be a tough one for the 15-23 Mets. Though they re-signed star third baseman David Wright to a long-term deal, the organization reduced payroll for the second straight season, shipped defending NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto and lost their highest paid player, Johan Santana, for the season after he re-injured his shoulder in Spring Training. Not to mention they play in a stacked NL East that features two of baseball’s best teams in Atlanta and Washington. Despite a hot start, the team has sputtered of late. While the offense has been keeping them in ballgames, every pitcher not named Matt Harvey—the organization’s 24-year-old ace—or Bobby Parnell has struggled.

4.3 RS/G 5th in NL
Even with the nine-figure extension the organization gave their franchise third baseman, the Mets likely didn’t expect the kind of offensive production they have gotten early on. While the 30-year-old Wright is the centerpiece of the lineup—batting third and looking like his old self in the cozier Citi Field—he’s received a lot of help from different spots in the order. Catcher John Buck, an add-in on the Dickey deal, had a surprising power surge in April, launching 10 homers and driving in 31 (both third in the NL). And second baseman Daniel Murphy looks like he’ll continue his two-plus-year run of success. Not one to attempt many stolen bases anyway, manager Terry Collins hasn’t let the increase in offensive output alter his conservative basepath philosophy. But the team has done a better job of being selective at the plate thus far, increasing the number of pitches they see per game.

5.0 RA/G 15th in NL
After the Mets traded away knuckleballer Dickey for a haul of prospects, many were wondering if the New York roster had an arm that could step in and fill the void. Enter Harvey (Friday’s starter), the seventh overall pick in the 2010 draft. The right-hander took the baseball world by storm in 10 starts last season, posting a 2.73 ERA with 70 strikeouts in 59.1 innings. This season, Harvey, who has four pitches and averages almost 95 mph on his heater, looks poised to become a legitimate top-line starter. Outside of him however, the squad is short on reliable arms. The bullpen has gotten quality innings from set-up man Brandon Lyon, and flamethrower Parnell has done a solid job in the closer role. But despite the abundance of early-season offense, the Mets will need more out of their pitching corps if they hope to hang with the beasts of the East.

Series 13 Preview: Cubs vs. Rockies


Troy Tulowitzki is the key component in the Rockies’ lineup. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Not much was expected of the Rockies after a woeful 2012 campaign that saw them compile the third-worst record in baseball and finish 30 games back of the World Series champion Giants. But the 2013 squad, under new manager Walt Weiss, took advantage of a soft early-season schedule and got off to a fast start. If healthy, the offense should continue to carry the load—they do play in Colorado, after all—behind stars Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. They added some bullpen depth by picking up right-hander Wilton Lopez, who has an ERA of 4.00 in 18 innings this year, but the rotation is still a big question mark. Over the years, the Rockies have tried everything—sinkerballers, fireballers, humidors, even a four-man rotation—to manage the Rocky Mountain high. It’s unlikely pitchers like former South Sider Jon Garland and retread Jeff Francis are going to be able to tame the beast.

4.8 RS/G 1st in NL
As always, Colorado should feature a high-powered attack, buoyed by the mile-high altitude at Coors Field. All-Star and Gold Glove shortstop Tulowitzki is back to lead the Rockies on offense and defense after left groin surgery limited him to just 47 games in 2012. If Colorado falters this year, 27-year-old outfielder Carlos Gonzalez should again be in high demand on the trade market. He’s a two-time Gold Glove winner who can run and hit for average and power. Dexter Fowler and Wilin Rosario both provide quality at-bats as well, but there’s not much behind that group. And little can be expected of Mr. Rockie, Todd Helton, this late in his career. It will be interesting to see how Weiss, a scrappy, 14-year major league veteran, will deploy his offense in his first year in the captain’s chair.

4.1 RA/G 8th in NL
It’s safe to say GM Dan O’Dowd’s Project 5,183—in which the Rockies used a four-man rotation and limited all starters to 75 pitches no matter how the game was going—is firmly in the rearview mirror. Unfortunately for Colorado fans, the Rockies did little to bolster their major league-worst 5.22 ERA from last season. Lopez should help in the bullpen, and Rafael Betancourt isn’t a liability at closer, but the lion’s share of the Rockies’ 98 losses in 2012 can be placed squarely on the starting rotation. The team re-signed soft-tosser Francis, the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft, but he has managed only a 6.90 ERA this year. They also picked up major league veteran Garland, who sat out the last season and a half following shoulder surgery. Both should be able to keep the ball on the ground, but they don’t exactly inspire fear in opposing offenses. Plus, we’ve seen this script before, when the Rockies tried sinkerballers like Denny Neagle and Mike Hampton to mitigate the Coors Field effect.

Series 12 Preview: Cubs at Nationals


Cubs pitchers will have to throw with caution when facing Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The reigning NL East champions haven’t gotten unleashed quite yet, but there’s little doubt their combination of pitching and hitting, veterans and youth will carry them deep into this season. The problem so far has been the offense, which ranks toward the bottom of the league in run production, mixed with a high strikeout totals and a lack of baserunners. But there’s talent oozing through the organization after about a decade of effective drafting. GM Mike Rizzo has supplemented the core of Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Ian Desmond, Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg with some great trades for Gio Gonzalez, Denard Span and late-inning bullpen arms. No matter the Nationals’ offensive situation, the Cubs will have to bring their cleanest A-game to the nation’s capital to deal with the all-around threat.

3.6 runs scored/game, 14th in the NL
Other-worldly talent Harper has slugged 10 homers in 33 games and has already shown he’ll be able to make adjustments at the big league level. But beyond his 1.013 OPS (on-base plus slugging), no other Nationals position player is clearing .800 right now. The problems with their top hitters haven’t been uniform either. Some haven’t been able to hit for average or power (Adam LaRoche, Zimmerman) while others bring the stick but won’t take a walk (Desmond, Jayson Werth). All four have the potential to do damage in the middle of the order. Center fielder Span gives the team a second speedster alongside Desmond, and Span’s able to play the field and take a walk. Second baseman Danny Espinosa is a black hole at the plate, but he’s a pretty terrific middle infielder. In the end, the lineup will only be able to get away with its current low-strikeout, high-walk mix once it starts hitting the ball with more authority.

3.8 runs allowed/game, 4th in the NL
Strasburg gets the headlines, but the entire Nats rotation is solid. Despite a 1-4 record, the power right-hander has fanned 44 batters in 44.1 innings and owns a 3.45 ERA. At least the Cubs will miss Zimmermann, who has established himself as one of the game’s most effective young pitchers. He only strikes out six batters per nine innings, but his control is outstanding. Left-handers Gonzalez—a Cy Young finalist last year and owner of a devastating low-3/4 curve—and Ross Detwiler round out the trio of young starters the Cubs will see this series. The bullpen is deep—that much is certain. Whether it’s a collection of good relievers or a mix of good and great is up for debate. Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and Henry Rodriguez all have closed for the Nationals in the past. Soriano’s the one closing out games now, relying heavily on a low-90s fastball that has seen its velocity decline precipitously over the past couple of years. He pairs it with a slider that’s currently only being used when he’s ahead in the count. Meanwhile, Clippard brings an excellent right-handed change-up, Storen is a promising youngster with great stuff, and Rodriguez brings velocity but without any idea of where it’s going.

—Sean Ahmed

Series 11 Preview: Cubs vs. Cardinals


Matt Carpenter has been solid since splitting duties between his regular third base and the keystone. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Cardinals certainly had their share of early-season setbacks, but that only made it clearer the broad collection of talent GM John Mozeliak has assembled can carry the team through just about anything. Having to scratch veteran ace Chris Carpenter for the season made it easy to make room in the rotation for potential Rookie of the Year candidate Shelby Miller, and losing shortstop Rafael Furcal opened up an opportunity for last year’s stretch-drive hero, Pete Kozma. The team is so strong and deep that outfielder Oscar Taveras, arguably the best hitting prospect in baseball, may spend the season in the minors waiting for an opportunity. And most pundits believe the Cards have the best farm system in baseball. In the after-Pujols era, this team isn’t just ready, it’s fully loaded to contend for years to come.

4.8 runs scored/game, 4th in the NL
The Cardinals have shifted a few players around to maximize the team’s offensive potential. They asked third baseman Matt Carpenter to split time between the hot corner and second to get his lefty power stroke into the lineup while also making room for first baseman Matt Adams, who could be off the DL by the time the Cards head to Wrigley Field. Carpenter, four-corners asset Allen Craig and utilityman Daniel Descalso give manager Mike Matheny more than enough moving parts to rotate around stars Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina. This hitting talent has also made it much easier for the team to endure a slow start from third baseman David Freese. If there’s one weakness in the St. Louis attack, it’s that the loss of Furcal has almost eliminated the running game. As a result, the Cards have become very much a station-to-station, big-inning offense.

3.5 runs allowed/game, 2nd in the NL
Perhaps no rotation in the league has been as strong as the Cardinals’ quintet in the early going. Adam Wainwright put up a 2.03 ERA in six April starts, striking out 43 and walking just three on his way to a 4-2 record. Lefty Jaime Garcia would front many big league rotations, and Miller’s mid-90s, moving fastball made him the top pitching prospect in the league coming into the year. Add in Jake Westbrook’s league-leading 1.07 ERA and Lance Lynn’s power-curve assortment, and there’s no such thing as a day off for opposing lineups. The problem is the ’pen, where Mitchell Boggs struggled to fill in for injured closer Jason Motte and was recently demoted. If there’s another source of worry, it might be the team’s interior defense. Experimenting with Carpenter at the keystone is much like the risk the Cards ran when they converted outfielder Scott Schumaker to second base. The move has worked out so far, as Carpenter’s defensive stats indicate there’s not much of a dropoff, but it remains to be seen how well it will work in the long run.

—Christina Kahrl

Series 10 Preview: Cubs vs. Reds


Left-handed rookie Tony Cingrani has been a star in the Reds’ rotation. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Most expect the Reds to challenge the Cardinals for supremacy in the NL Central this season, but there are concerns about whether Cincinnati has enough depth to carry them through the inevitable injuries every team endures. Despite a remarkably healthy 2012—each member of Cincy’s front five made 30 or more starts—the injury issue came to the fore early in 2013. Cleanup hitter Ryan Ludwick’s dislocated shoulder will keep him out until after the All-Star break, and ace Johnny Cueto went down on April 15 with a strained lat. As Cubs fans know from waiting out Matt Garza, lat injuries can take a while to heal. The bullpen has also been hit hard, as key set-up men Sean Marshall and Nick Masset have both spent time on the DL (Masset was transferred from the 15-day DL to the 60-day on April 21). If this injury trend continues, it remains to be seen whether the Reds can sustain another playoff run in 2013. The Reds head into Wrigley one game over .500 (15-14), but just 2.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals.

4.4 Runs Scored/Game, 6th in the NL

Power has long been this lineup’s calling card, but the Reds’ team slugging was around league average in the first month. Jay Bruce and Zack Cozart are both off to slow starts, while Chris Heisey hasn’t performed well in place of Ludwick. Former MVP Joey Votto was initially on pace to draw more than 200 walks, but some scouts fret he could be getting too selective for his own good. On the positive side, Brandon Phillips got off to a hot start, and Todd Frazier’s power numbers indicate he’s recovered from last season’s September swoon. The injury to Ludwick, combined with questions about Shin-Soo Choo’s ability to play center field regularly—despite his impressive offensive output—have fed speculation the Reds might bring up speedster Billy Hamilton. After stealing 155 bases in the minors in 2012, Hamilton is expected to be the biggest stolen-base threat in baseball since Vince Coleman.

3.6 Runs Against/Game, 3rd in the NL

The major controversy this spring was whether Cincinnati would really move the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman, and his triple-digit velocity into the rotation. After considerable debate, they decided to leave him at closer, which gives them a distinct in-game advantage compared to the other relief corps in the division. But that decision could also cost them in the long haul, especially with Cueto out for an indefinite amount of time. The good news is the other rotation regulars behind Cueto have all been strong. Sunday’s starter Mat Latos and Homer Bailey look like All-Stars early on while rookie and Saturday’s starter Tony Cingrani has picked up where Cueto left off. Mike Leake (Friday’s probable pitcher) continues to pitch well, and Bronson Arroyo’s nine flavors of junk consistently chew up innings while providing winnable ballgames. The Reds will need that kind of consistency as they wait for the lineup to start producing like it should. Manager Dusty Baker is not one to make a lot of in-game moves to the ’pen, so his club’s fortunes may rest on how far his rotation can take them.

—Christina Kahrl


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